Pubdate: Mon, 04 Jun 2007
Source: Journal-Inquirer (Manchester, CT)
Copyright: 2007 Journal-Inquirer
Author: Keith M. Phaneuf , Journal Inquirer
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


HARTFORD - For the last five years, state Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, 
R-Somers, and legislative allies from both parties have fought to 
legalize marijuana use for medicinal purposes. Though they have had 
more success this year than any prior, the controversial bill's fate 
now rests solely with Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who admits she struggles 
with mixed feelings about the measure. The bill, which cleared the 
House 89-58 on May 23, was approved 23-13 in the Senate late Friday night.

"The difference between now and then is public awareness," Bacchiochi 
said, referring to the 2003 House debate when she first revealed she 
had risked arrest to purchase marijuana to help a loved one. "As the 
public becomes more familiar with this, so does the legislature. And 
as they become more familiar, they become more comfortable with it."

Over the past five years, Bacchiochi has become the leader for both 
Republicans and Democrats who want to see the drug legalized for 
palliative purposes.

The Somers lawmaker has recounted many times, both in one-on-one 
conversations and on the House floor, how she purchased marijuana 
illegally in the late 1980s to help her former husband, who had 
developed terminal bone cancer.

Facing chemotherapy, radiation treatments, and surgery to remove a 
spinal tumor, he suffered intense pain and debilitating nausea until 
he died, according to Bacchiochi, who said smoking marijuana offered 
him at least a respite from that pain.

The House rejected a medicinal marijuana bill in 2003. Similar 
measures died from inaction on the House calendar in 2004 and 2005 - 
the latter after first receiving approval in the Senate. No bill was 
introduced last year as advocates regrouped and built support among 
lawmakers in preparation for 2007.

Bacchiochi added that advocates also were helped because the 
marijuana debate never devolved into a partisan struggle. Each side 
of the question attracted Democrats and Republicans. "I appreciate 
the leadership allowing the whole chamber to make a decision" without 
pressure to form a consensus within the party, she said.

The legislation on Rell's desk would allow a doctor to certify that 
an adult patient has a debilitating condition that could benefit from 
using marijuana.

Patients and their caregivers then would have to register with the 
Department of Consumer Protection. Afterward, they could cultivate up 
to four plants, none of which could exceed 4 feet in height.

Connecticut actually enacted its first law to allow medical marijuana 
use in 1981, authorizing doctors to prescribe its use to relieve 
nausea associated with chemotherapy and eye pressure from glaucoma.

But the state law is unworkable because, under federal statute, 
physicians who prescribe marijuana can be sent to prison.

Rell told Capitol reporters two weeks ago that she is torn. On one 
hand, she said, when a loved one is suffering, "you would do anything 
in your power to alleviate that pain."

But the governor also said she understands those who fear 
legalization would send a dangerous message - especially to youth - 
that drug use, in general, isn't dangerous. The bill would have been 
better, Rell said, had it been limited only to terminally ill patients.

"The governor still has mixed feelings about this," Rell spokesman 
Christopher Cooper said over the weekend. "She'll be reviewing the 
final language very closely." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake